November 21st, 2013
09:17 AM ET
10 months ago

Obama supports Senate's nuclear option to end some filibusters

Update 5:53 p.m. ET

Washington (CNN) - Senate Democrats dropped the filibuster bomb Thursday, and now the question is what kind of fallout will result from the so-called nuclear option.

By a 52-48 vote, the Senate ended the ability of minority Republicans to continue using filibusters to block some of President Barack Obama's judicial and executive nominations, despite the vehement objections of Republicans.

Majority Democrats then quickly acted on the change by ending a filibuster against one of Obama's nominees for a federal appeals court.

Obama later cited what he called "an unprecedented pattern of obstruction in Congress" during his presidency for the move led by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

"A deliberate and determined effort to obstruct everything, no matter what the merits, just to refight the results of an election is not normal," Obama said of the change. "And for the sake of future generations, it cannot become normal."

The man who coined the term 'nuclear option' regrets ever pursuing it

Republicans warned the controversial move would worsen the already bitter partisan divide in Washington, complaining it took away a time-honored right for any member of the Senate minority party to filibuster.

"This changes everything, this changes everything," veteran GOP Sen. John McCain of Arizona told reporters. He blamed newer Democratic senators who never served as the minority party for pushing the issue, adding: "They succeeded and they will pay a very, very heavy price for it."

Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky called Thursday's maneuvering a diversion from the problem-plagued Obamacare issue that has been giving the White House and Democrats political headaches.

"You'll regret this and you may regret it a lot sooner than you think," McConnell warned, adding that "the Democratic playbook of broken promises, double standards and raw power - the same playbook that got us Obamacare - has to end. It may take the American people to end it, but it has to end."

CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger said Democrats seem to believe that things couldn't get much worse, with judicial vacancies increasing and Republicans increasing their use of filibusters after an agreement earlier this year that cleared some presidential appointees.

Opinion: 'Nuclear option' makes GOP do its job

"I think there is probably a little bit of 'calling your bluff' going on here; that Harry Reid basically threw up his hands and said, enough of this, it's time to do it," Borger said. Now, she added, the question was whether angry Republicans would further harden their positions in the already bitter political climate which she said "will get worse."

Thursday's change affected presidential executive nominations such as ambassadors and agency heads, along with judicial nominations except for Supreme Court appointees.

It did not affect the ability of Republicans to filibuster legislation.

Under the old rules, it took 60 votes to break a filibuster of presidential nominees. The change means a simple Senate majority of 51 now suffices in the chamber Democrats currently control with a 55-45 majority.

The nuclear option deployed by Reid allowed a procedural vote that required a simple majority to change the threshold for approving presidential and judicial nominees, instead of a super majority typically required.

Opinion: What's at stake in power struggle over judges

"It's time to get the Senate working again," the Nevada Democrat said on the Senate floor. "Not for the good of the current Democratic majority or some future Republican majority, but for the good of the United States of America. It's time to change. It's time to change the Senate before this institution becomes obsolete."

Reid followed through on threats dating back years after Republicans blocked three judicial nominees to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, known as the highest court in the land after the Supreme Court.

Both parties have been guilty of political hijinks involving filibusters.

In 2005, Republicans who then held the majority threatened the nuclear option to prevent Democratic filibusters of President George W. Bush's judicial nominees. The confrontation was averted thanks to an agreement by a bipartisan group of 14 senators.

Obama, then a senator, opposed the nuclear option at that time.

"I urge my Republican colleagues not to go through with changing these rules," he said on the Senate floor in 2005. "In the long run it is not a good result for either party. One day Democrats will be in the majority again and this rule change will be no fairer to a Republican minority than it is to a Democratic minority."

Explainer: What's the nuclear option?

Asked about Obama's past stance compared to his support Thursday for Reid's move, White House spokesman Josh Earnest cited increased obstruction of Obama nominees for the need to get the Senate working again.

"The circumstances have unfortunately changed for the worse since 2005," Earnest said, noting that there were 50 judicial vacancies when Obama took office compared to 93 today and that many of the President's nominees have bipartisan support but can't get an up-or-down Senate vote.

Furious Republicans accused Reid of reneging on a pledge against using the nuclear option.

"It is another partisan political maneuver to permit the Democratic majority to do whatever it wants to do, and in this case it is to advance the President's regulatory agenda and the only cure for it that I know is an election," said veteran GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.

Until now, Reid hadn't necessarily had support from enough of his own Democratic caucus to pass a rules change. Some Democratic senators were reluctant to change the rules because of reverence for the institution and, more importantly, because they know Democrats will not always be in the majority.

Veterans such as Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, who had been opposed to the nuclear option to change the Senate rules, recently decided to back Reid's move. Feinstein and others, like fellow Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, said things were so broken in Washington that the nuclear option was the only way to fix it.

Three Democrats voted with Republicans on Thursday in opposing the nuclear option - Sens. Carl Levin of Michigan, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Mark Pryor of Arkansas.

However, Republicans argued Democrats were just trying to manufacture a crisis in order to create a distraction from the Obamacare rollout debacle.

"Sounds to me like Harry Reid is trying to change the subject and if I were taking all the incoming fire that he is taking over Obamacare I'd try to change the subject too," House Speaker John Boehner said Thursday.

CNN's Ashley Killough, Lisa Desjardins, Alan Silverleib and Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report.


Filed under: Congress • Harry Reid • Senate
soundoff (2,690 Responses)
  1. notahistorianbut

    Rick McDaniel – What exactly IS getting done in the House? What has the House actually PASSED that helps the country? Boehner/Cantor changed the rule on 9/30/13 to eliminate the ability of ANYONE other than themselves the ability to bring a bill to the floor for a vote. Talk about dictator behavior – Look at Boehner, Cantor and the tea party? If you don't do what I want – I will shut down the government. Then I'll cry that the government is shut down because I refuse to do my job and I'm not being allowed to bully everyone else to what I want.

    November 22, 2013 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  2. Elucidated1

    It was said in the last decade by the GOP when they controlled everything that "elections have consequences" and that they have a mandate and are going to use it. Well, the same thing can be said right now. And if they right wingers here think that they are going to retake the Senate in 2014, they are not paying attention. What else is new.

    November 22, 2013 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  3. Finally........

    I think it's time for the Northern States to kick out the Southern states – please.
    Set them free........we're already a divided nation, culture, opinion, traditions, etc.

    November 22, 2013 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  4. connor

    you people who believe this is good for the country are downright stupid. you think its good after 200 years the democrats and harry reid decide to change the whole system and giving more power to the majority party? reid has never voted for any bills from the democrats and it was the democrats who caused the shutdown because they wouldnt flat out neggotiate with republicans. this is a country that should be unified not divided like president obama has done. worst president in US history and it will be democrats who face the will of the people in 2014

    November 22, 2013 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  5. Tom W

    So the dems pull another foolish move, remember when they blamed the the republicans for almost shutting down the gov. over Obamacare which wasn't and still isn'r ready, now this.

    November 22, 2013 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  6. Ron

    Just more evidence that on top of being incompetent and corrupt, the Democrat Party has no integrity.

    November 22, 2013 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  7. grumblesfromthegrave

    The hypocracy in Washington has reached new depths.
    They just guaranteed the most contentious election season in history, as opponents will now target EVERY Senate race coming up, to try to give partisan control to one party (or the other).
    We are about to see what Adams, de Tocqueville, and JSMills meant when they wrote of "the tyranny of the majority" (hint: this was the biggest reason Egypt had a popular uprising to depose their democratically-elected leader, Morsi...when will we LEARN?!?)

    November 22, 2013 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  8. Richard T.

    The number of obstructive appointment filibusters has been – Carter through Bush II (1976- 2008) = 86 and against Obama (2009 – 2013) = 82. That sure seems like abuse of the filibuster privilage. The Rethugnican bullies finally got "B" slapped. Now go cry foul and continue to obstruct anything that supports: women's health, the poor, the middle class, voter rights, and democracy in general.

    November 22, 2013 02:26 pm at 2:26 pm |
  9. paul reynolds

    This says it all – " Once a rare maneuver of specific opposition, the filibuster has become routine, especially since President Barack Obama took office in 2009."

    November 22, 2013 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  10. Jim

    It amuses me to see how democrats are so blinded to facts. This very option was touted in the George W Bush years when the DEMOCRATS were blocking fillerbustering every nominee he wanted! The republicans were going to use the Nuclear Option to do exactly what Gustapo Reid is doing. But Hitler reins supreme and his SS Minions in the Senate will only obey to no end. You people must have a memory block in your heads. Harry Reid, Clinton, Biden all opposed the Nuclear Option when it was going to be used aganist them but now they are going for it. LOL the jokes not on the Republicans its the two faced Nazi Party of Democrats who can only cry my way or no way! OBAMA CARE 5 YEARS Disaster in the Making! Dont Cry if and when the Republicans do take the senate and presidency back. And one last thing. Enjoy your health care while it last it will be defunded and removed when they do take office thanks to Harry's simply rule of Nuclear lol this is going to be a good day to see all the kiddies who cant remember past George W. Bushes presidency. Look at me im a Democrat crying because the republicans are doing 100% the exact same thing we did to them in the Bush years lol! Later Democratic Nazi Party!

    November 22, 2013 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  11. Democratic Nazi Party

    Democrats are funny they cry like babies when the republicans do 100% the exact same things they did to them in the Bush years!
    obama = hitler
    Reid = Rummell
    Nacy Pelosi = Frau Farbizna
    Senate Democrats = SS minions
    House Democrats = Gustopo
    Democratic welfare = Slavery! = the Government now owns you!

    These are about the nicest terms i can think of which in my opinion are lenient compared to the terms the Nazi Democratic Party uses on a daily basis

    November 22, 2013 02:47 pm at 2:47 pm |
  12. ChrisM

    Republicans, this is what happens when you abuse the filibuster rules. You abuse it, You, republicans , Lose it!!

    The republican filibusters in the last five years accounts for almost one half of All the Filibusters since the beginning of America.

    November 22, 2013 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  13. scarf

    connor

    you people who believe this is good for the country are downright stupid. you think its good after 200 years the democrats and harry reid decide to change the whole system and giving more power to the majority party?
    ==============================================================================================
    At least learn about what you're criticizing before you criticize it. The filibuster rule was last changed back in 1975, again because it was being abused.

    November 22, 2013 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  14. Concerned American

    All rational Americans should be very concerned....as we are allowing our elected representatives...to destroy the checks and balances that protect the American experience and way of life.. Every Democrat that voted for the nuclear option is unfit to be serving in the Senate...as they have proven to not understand the American Democratic System of Government and the American experience. We may wish to study history and recall what Hitler did in Austria.

    November 22, 2013 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  15. Carol

    Democrats don't get anything done because it is their way or the highway. They need to learn how to compromise. When they don't work well with others they pass crap policy like Obamacare. Wonder what other horrible policy they will pass next. And, they think by delaying the mandate for businesses next year until after the election, that people will not see their true colors until it is too late.

    November 22, 2013 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  16. Derp

    How about whenever they don't do their job and deliberately cause trouble, we just shoot everybody involved. If shutting down the government instead of attempting to fix anything meant ending up against the wall, both parties would stop acting like the Republicans whenever the other party gains majority.

    November 22, 2013 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  17. Toomuch

    Not too worried about this. Democrats are too stupid to realize that they just made it easier, much easier to take back control of the Senate and stop anything Obama want to do cold...

    November 22, 2013 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  18. Lenny Pincus

    If the filibuster is so great, why don't the Republicans in the House adopt it as a rule? Eric? John? Anyone?

    November 22, 2013 03:39 pm at 3:39 pm |
  19. biff

    talk about hypocricy! When the democrats were in the minority, they were all against the nuclear option. Now they are all for it.

    November 22, 2013 03:47 pm at 3:47 pm |
  20. Rudy NYC

    Republicans keep calling for the President to fire this person, or that person.
    Heck, if he did fire somebidy, then he would never be able to refill the position.

    November 22, 2013 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  21. Chuck

    Really Bad move for the Democrats, i guess maybe they are afraid of thier own party
    they shold realize this will make Americans vote GOP all the way in 2014

    November 22, 2013 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  22. Alger Dave

    Of course both parties are hypocrites on this issue, as the one in power always seems to consider this. BUT, the Dems have now actually done it, which does give them an extra large black eye...
    But the point of all of this is lost in the story and comments. Thomas Jefferson, who wrote many of the Senate rules, obviously meant to require the 'supermajority' on judicial appointments because he understood that with certain issues, it's important to have broad support – ie: you don't want one party or the other to set who the judges will be – we need some moderation in this area. And the only way to insure a moderate judicial system was to put in their filibuster rule requiring 60 Senators to approve to 'invoke cloture' or stop discussion and call the question. So the Dems have effectively insured that the judicial will be more partisan than ever, by 'going nuclear'. And we as a country have lost an important tool to insure moderation in the judiciary. That's the sadest part.

    November 22, 2013 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  23. Alger Dave

    The real 'crime' here is that Obama didn't want to bother to send up moderate judges to stand for these seats. That's all he would have had to have done to overcome these being blocked. They were blocked because his nominees were too liberal, and the filibuster is the tool for keeping judges out who are too liberal or too conservative. Now that rule is gone. And it's Obama's fault (and other presidents before him) for not sending moderate candidates up for consideration. That's the easy fix to this whole situation, and of course the one never followed.

    November 22, 2013 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  24. MickeyOregon

    Wow, after reading the 2005 NYT editorials excoriating the attempt to end the filibuster, after watching Biden's and Obama's Senate floor speeches in 2005 excoriating the attempt to end the filibuster, and how bad such a move would be on democracy and for this nation I now see this. So, they were cynically lying then, huh? They were right then – but didn't mean it. They are wrong in doing what they did now. Bad move. Epic.

    November 22, 2013 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  25. Gary Orban

    It's time to put an end to career politicans. We need fresh ideas to move the country forward again without the political BS and who's a republican, who's a democrat, etc.

    November 22, 2013 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
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